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Bush steps up class war on U.S. workers

By Sharon Smith | January 24, 2003 | Page 7

"CLASS WARFARE?" queried Business Week recently--as if the question needs asking in Bush's America. "Suppose the rich get richer and income inequality gets worse," the article mused--its unspoken question, "Can we still get away with it?"

The truth is, they have been getting away with it--for more than 25 years, in a one-sided assault on workers' living standards and organization. Ronald Reagan played a role in escalating this assault, but it predates his presidency by several years.

In 1978, United Auto Workers president Douglas Fraser observed, "Leaders of the business community…have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country--a war against working people, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old."

During this time, CEOs have seen their earnings rise by a staggering 2,500 percent, according to economist Paul Krugman, while workers' wages today are worth less than they were in the late1970s.

In 1970, the average real compensation for the CEOs of the top 100 corporations was 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today, they earn more than 1,000 times the average worker's salary. And, as Krugman points out, "If the rich get more, that leaves less for everyone else."

Through boom and recession alike--and with both Democrats and Republicans in the White House--class inequality has increased steadily throughout this period, now equaling the record levels of the Roaring Twenties. As Krugman wryly suggests, however, "the effort devoted to maintaining that inequality is rivaled only by the effort devoted to pretending it doesn't exist."

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn't even count individual incomes over $1 million, so its data systematically understate the gross level of class inequality which exists in the U.S. Economist Michael Parenti concluded, "The difference between Michael Eisner, Disney CEO who pocketed $565 million in 1996, and the individuals who average $9,250 is not 13 to 1--the reported spread between highest and lowest quintiles--but over 61,000 to 1."

Meanwhile, the tax rate for the richest individuals--which stood at 95 percent in the 1950s and 70 percent in 1980--has fallen to 38.5 percent, and is now set to fall to 35 percent under Bush's plan. George Bush now seeks to further escalate the class war.

Eliminating dividend taxation would save those earning less than $10,000 just $6, but those making more than $1 million would get $45,098, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. As Business Week observed, Bush's tax cuts--with a price tag of $2 trillion--have "transformed the economic debate in a way that goes far beyond the magnitude of the proposals themselves."

With Pentagon and Homeland Security Department budgets of nearly $500 billion, the Bush administration has held spending on infrastructure, education and health care to just $350 billion. That means cuts.

The Bush administration told Congress that it must cut $300 million from its Low Income Energy Assistance Program--stranding tens of thousands people who need help paying heating bills this winter. And last week, the administration announced that Medicaid would no longer be required to cover emergency room visits for the more than 40 million poor people it insures. Louisiana Medicaid director Ben A. Bearden argued, "The E.R. is very expensive, and people in this state use it inappropriately. "They go in for a stubbed toe," he sniffed.

And Bush chose civil rights leader Martin Luther King's birthday as an occasion to launch a new attack on affirmative action--when studies such as the Harvard University Civil Rights Project have shown that public schools are re-segregating back to the levels of 30 years ago.

Bush's tax cuts for the rich--like Reagan's--are just the beginning of a multi-pronged assault on the entire working class, that ranges from attacking abortion rights to what little remains of the social safety net serving the poorest of the poor.

The one-sided class war that has been raging for 25 years shows no signs of abating. It is time to fight back.

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